Common Mechanical Issues Found in Distilleries
More than 2.1 million barrels of Bourbon flowed through Kentucky distilleries last year, accounting for 95 percent of the world’s production.
Keeping the world awash in Bourbon requires more than just the best quality grains and pure limestone water. The mechanics of distilling require tons of piping, heating, cooling, and other equipment to get the classic taste.
And the reality of machinery is that things break and result in facility issues that impact production, quality, and flavor.
It’s important to understand where mechanical issues in distilleries can happen and when to call for repairs. Let’s look at the most common problems that can happen to your pipes, ventilation, and plumbing.
Potential Piping Problems
Pipes serve as the arteries of the enterprise, moving mash from the cooker to the fermentor and spirits from the tank to the cask. They twist, bend, and join in a lot of places along the path making them vulnerable to springing leaks.
Age, corrosion, and pressure strain your pipes and can lead to leaks over time. Inspecting your pipes should be a daily habit to catch distillery issues before they become big problems.
Don’t think you’ve dodged this bullet because you’ve gone with copper piping rather than stainless steel or galvanized. Copper can still corrode and leak at the seams, despite its superiority in other ways.
A clog in the piping can show up in a couple of different ways, the most common being that you notice a decreased flow rate between elements of the system. But an increase in pressure in the still can also mean a blockage down the line. Adding glass balls to your column helps to increase surface area, but it can unintentionally result in over-pressurization of the still if you’re careful.
The heart of a distillery is its boiler. A reliable boiler should give you consistent heat and steam pressure quickly and on-demand.
Most modern boilers require little maintenance beyond blowing down at the end of the day to clear sediment that collects at the bottom. Not taking this simple step can result in facility issues that damage your drains and plumbing.
Beyond that, your regular distillery maintenance checks should include looking for any holes in the drums or clogging of the condensate line. Boiler accessories like copper coils for potable hot water should also be checked regularly for holes or clogs.
If your boiler starts getting noisy or inconsistent, it’s time for a thorough checkup to make sure you don’t need a new boiler.
Ventilation and Air Quality
When you’re making a grain-based beverage like whiskey or vodka, there’s going to be a lot of grain dust in the air, which is highly explosive. Moving all that out requires good ventilation and air filtration with a backup manual system in case something breaks.
The ventilation needs to extend to the fermentation room and cask storage as well. Fermenting releases carbon dioxide while alcohol vapors come off the still and casks. Both create an unhealthy breathing environment for your workers.
Like the HVAC in a home, you should check your system to replace air filters and ensure the parts are clean and humming along nicely. You can do this sort of maintenance yourself monthly and have a professional check the system annually.
Humidity control allows for consistency and conformity in your product. The many temperature changes in the distillation process result in a lot of humidity. If you’ve noticed trouble maintaining the proper moisture levels, check for a clog in the line moving condensation out of the building or a dirty filter.
A distillery puts out a lot of heat – one of the most common issues in distilleries – but it also needs to be able to cool things down quickly. Your chiller checklist should include cleaning the condenser and air filters, along with the fluid system.
If your chiller struggles to get temps low enough to cool your mash quickly, there could be a leak or electrical failure. Your technician should be checking the glycol mixture along with the refrigerant levels to ensure they’re at the correct levels. Any noises or smells could indicate overheating or excessive wear.
Water Filter Failure
The limestone water in our area is a key component in making Bourbon, but the hard water can be rough on equipment. If you’ve installed a water softener or filter to deal with this, you need to also keep an eye on pH levels to make sure the water stays compatible with a steel drum.
If you see sediment in lines or scale buildup in tanks, it’s time to give the system a check to ensure the water filter hasn’t gotten clogged.
Other Equipment Issues
With your cooker, fermentor, and other tanks, you want to be inspecting the welds for any stress or cracking that needs repair. That could be an indicator of too much pressure build-up, which could in turn lead to a rupture or explosion.
Depending on the pressure rating of the tank, you might see a crack before a pressure gauge ever activates. There are many cases where vats and storage tanks are overfilled or overpressured and put stress on welds. Proper employee training can help avoid these kinds of distillery mechanical issues.
Because pumps find their way into almost every stage of production, they require care to ensure they don’t stop work. Cleaning and replacing seals monthly can keep your pumps going strong, along with proper procedures for use. A leak in a pump could mean the seal is failing, or it could just be dirty.
If you installed enough of them, the floor drains running throughout your operation should be something you take for granted. But if you start noticing more liquid collecting on the floor than normal, there could be a clog in the drain, or a sump pump might be failing.
Dealing with Distillery Facility Issues
From the pipes to the boiler to the drainage, a distillery has a lot of points where mechanical failure can strike. Facility issues like a pipe leak or inconsistent boiler cost you product, time, and money, so you need to be able to deal with them quickly.
When you need experts that know how to solve mechanical issues in distilleries, contact us. Our team of technicians provides fast and reliable service that will get your spirits flowing again.